Poles learn to live with martial law - for as long as it takes to dispel it

By , Special correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

''I can't believe it. Here are we Poles, the most anarchic people in Europe, living under martial law and taking it quietly!''

This is how one Pole expressed his bewilderment at his compatriots who seem already to regard martial law as part of their ''normality,'' the ironic term they have resignedly come to apply to most of the hardships and frustrations of their lives this past half-decade.

But, if Poland gives an outward impression of taking martial law quietly, it does not mean its deep wound has gone away or is being healed.

Recommended: Default

Indeed, on the two-month anniversary of the Dec. 13 Sunday when Poland awoke to martial law, there were two disturbances indicating that some Poles have not taken the clampdown in stride.

One was the Feb. 13 demonstration in Poznan, in western Poland, in which 194 persons were arrested. They were mainly schoolchildren, students, and unemployed youths. The Polish news agency said 162 were summarily dealt with, though no details of penalties were given. The rest, as seems to be the pattern on such occasions, were presumably released. Martial law restrictions were tightened in Poznan after the incident.

The other incident was at Lublin, in the east, where a time bomb was found in a gas station. It was defused without mishap.

Part of the reason for the fairly quiet reaction is that the first numbing shock - with the sudden interruption of most of the ordinary facilities and conveniences and a tide of military rules for living poured out by radio and television every hour - passed in a few weeks.

The relaxations since, such as the shortened curfew, the reopening of theaters and cinemas, the easing of restrictions on telephones, and civilian town-to-town movement, brought back a bit of ''normality.''

Other relaxed measures are expected before the end of the month; but not the lifting of martial law, which still appears to be a long way off.

Some 1,800 of the officially reported total of over 6,000 internees have now been freed. An official told this correspondent that of the remainder half will be out by the end of February.

''The Solidarity leaders?'' ''No, they cannot be let out yet.''

The silence of people in general is as eloquent as the strangely subdued air of a big city and an uncanny silence at night as traffic dwindles well before the 11 o'clock curfew. Then, all that is heard through the window of one's hotel is the occasional passage of a military vehicle.

Officials make no attempt to discount the shock to national feeling. Some seem to feel it just as deeply themselves though they are part of the establishment which took the decision.

Part of the blow to national pride is disappointment at the involvement of the Polish Army - one of the country's two revered symbols (the other, of course , being the Roman Catholic Church) - though the ethos about the armed forces as such appears unimpaired.

Although the Army has been, and is always on show, the troops themselves were never directly involved in the serious clashes between workers and riot police - and the bloodshed - in the first phase of martial law in the Katowice coalfields and in Gdansk.

Nonetheless, however much Poles may have learned ''how to live with it'' or the military regime to have achieved a certain ''law and order'' compared to the daily, even more disrupted life prior to Dec. 13, it is questionable how much the authorities have really gained.

''We are still afraid of what might happen next,'' Poles say in a manner betraying their hurt. ''We still don't know what will come. There doesn't seem much to hope for.''

Officials gloomily conceded that what is most likely to come next is an even tougher few months. Food shortages - always the kernel of the Polish crisis - are expected to worsen before improving. There is even the prospect of bread rationing as well as a slump in poultry supplies - both as a result of the grain imports lost under American sanctions.

The government, in fact, has just made a bid - announced by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski with all the professional staff officer's military precision - to try and convince people it really is trying to come to grips with the situation. The ministers concerned were ordered to produce this month or next specific plans embracing every troubled sphere of Poland's social and economic life.

These range from the ''premises'' for restoration of the unions (including Solidarity) to dealing with the foreign debts, reduction of the country's dependence on imports, and increased exploitation of its own potentials and self-sufficiency in food production.

But the continued tussle at the top of the party, between the moderate-reform group and an authoritarian, conservative faction hostile to most of the reforms - above all, to trade unions which are not confined to their old transmission belt role for party policy - will hold up any meaningful program until it is resolved.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...